After an arson attack that killed two in Duma, Palestinians formed a neighbourhood watch group.
Duma, occupied West Bank – In the charred concrete remains of the home in Duma where the Dawabsheh family used to live, a group of schoolgirls wrote messages on the wall.
“I love you, my teacher,” wrote one girl. Another simply wrote the name “Reham” inside of a heart.
Reham Dawabsheh, a 27-year-old teacher, died in hospital on Sunday night after suffering burns to more than 80 percent of her body in a July arson attack, which was allegedly carried out by Israeli settlers.
The attack also killed Reham’s husband and their 18-month-old son, while another son, four-year-old Ahmed, remains in hospital. With second-degree burns covering 60 percent of his body, Ahmed’s chances of survival are slim, burn experts say.
Razan Maher, 15, said she and her classmates cried at the start of the school year because Reham was not there. “She was always smiling and laughing; she never wanted to upset anyone. She loved teaching us,” Maher told Al Jazeera.
As friends and family gathered on Monday at the home of Reham’s mother-in-law before her burial, the atmosphere was one of shock and despair.
Reham’s sister, Alia, said she heard the news in the middle of the night.
“I felt like a creature without a soul. I felt like a crazy person,” she told Al Jazeera. “Reham was like the moon. I called her ‘the moon’. She was kind and very sweet with us. When I look at the moon, I remember her.”
Palestinian activists have called for a “day of rage” on Friday in response to the tragic developments, while human rights activists are questioning the slow response of Israeli authorities in apprehending the perpetrators.
After the Duma attack, Israeli police detained a handful of extremist settlers, but they were subsequently released without charge. The detentions followed a change in Israeli legislation that allowed Israelis to be held in administrative detention – a practise traditionally reserved for Palestinians – amid a reported increase in the number of attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers.
According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli settlers have perpetrated at least 142 attacks against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and in the West Bank since the beginning of 2015.
In the Duma case, “there is an ongoing investigation taking place by the Israeli police and other security agencies in Israel”, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Al Jazeera, noting he could not comment further.
Critics have charged that the Israeli government would likely have dealt with the Duma murders more severely if the victims were Jewish and the perpetrators Palestinian.
“I’m not overly optimistic of the perpetrators being brought to justice. However, due to international attention on the case, the Israeli authorities might want to show they are serious,” Tahseen Elayyan of the Ramallah-based Palestinian rights organisation, Al-Haq, told Al Jazeera. “Very few Israeli perpetrators have been brought to justice when the victims have been Palestinian. And when they have, their sentences have been inadequately light.”
Very few Israeli perpetrators have been brought to justice when the victims have been Palestinian. And when they have, their sentences have been inadequately light.
Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din says less than two percent of Palestinian complaints against Israeli settlers have resulted in convictions.
In June, the group released a report titled: “Standing Idly By”, about the Israeli army’s response to offences committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
“The phenomenon of ‘standing idly by’ refers to incidents when soldiers witness violence by Israeli citizens against Palestinians and their property and do nothing to prevent the harm while the action is ongoing, refrain from detaining or arresting the perpetrators after the event, fail to secure the scene to allow the collection of evidence, or fail to testify about the event to the police,” the report stated.
In addition to the settler violence, more than 25 Palestinians have been killed this year by Israeli security forces using live ammunition in disputed circumstances.
The day of the Duma attack, Laith al-Khaldi, 15, from the village of Jifna, near Ramallah, was killed by Israeli soldiers after throwing stones at a nearby Israeli military tower during protests that followed the death of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh.
“They could have arrested him,” Samar al-Khaldi, Laith’s mother, told Al Jazeera. “Even if they felt the need to shoot him when he presented no threat to them – why didn’t they shoot him with rubber bullets? Or if they wanted to use live ammunition, why didn’t they shoot him in his legs and then arrest him?”
Asked about such cases, an Israeli army spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the army “takes unprecedented measures in order to avoid harming civilians. All unusual incidents are investigated by the military police, the findings of which are then transferred to the Military Advocate General for examination”.
According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, as the occupying power in the West Bank, “Israel is obligated to maintain public order and ensure the safety of the Palestinians”. But few cases have been investigated and fully prosecuted, the group added, noting that a new law passed by the Israeli parliament also makes it impossible for Palestinians to claim compensation.